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“Why do you write?” is a question I am often asked. I write books because I have stories inside me that I want to tell. It really is that simple, while the reason I write this column may be more complex.

German theology professor, composer, priest, monk and seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”

I have no illusions of changing the world, but I do write in hopes of changing those who read this column. I hope to encourage hearts and attitudes to be more optimistic and positive. And why not? Studies show that optimistic people live happier lives. Positive people accomplish positive things and happy people live longer and healthier. Being positive and happy are both choices we make. I write in hopes of influencing positive actions and increasing happiness.

A few of you are rolling your eyes. And I get it. If you have not made a choice to live a positive and happy life, you probably think this is all a big heaping pile of positive mumbo jumbo. You may not believe a word, which is exactly my point. If this is you, I will confidently share that there are countless studies proving so.

Want to be happier, healthier and more accomplished? Begin by choosing your friends wisely.

The late Jim Rohn, life coach and motivational speaker famously said, “We become the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” In some form or another, a parent, a teacher and countless other sources of information have told you the same thing. I remember my mom telling me when I was in grade school, “Don’t hang around that boy because you’ll become just like him!” It’s sound advice and 100 percent true. If you have children, I bet you have expressed these sentiments to them — or you will. It is important advice and it’s equally important for adults.

Who are the five people you spend the most time with and how are they impacting and influencing your life? Are their attitudes contagious? And if so, are they worth catching?

Arlene and I are in a small group that meets every Sunday evening. We eat, laugh and talk. There are five couples and I respect and admire everyone in the group. We encourage and pray for each other. I feel blessed and happy to call them friends and I know my life is enhanced and made better because of them. We also belong to a dinner group of close friends that meets once a month. All are successful in their careers and have raised great families. Again, these are people that we admire and bring positive value to our life. But are your friend choices ‘really’ important?

Psychologists Elaine Hatfield (University of Hawaii) and John Cacioppo (University of Chicago) write that there is a natural drive to mimic those around us. When spending time with others, we unconsciously pick up accents, body language, facial expressions and word choices. We begin to slowly mirror those we spend the most time with. Each of these physical actions are natural reflections of emotions, that we then internalize. We become reflections, inside and out, of those we spend the most time around.

If you spend time with unhappy people, you are more likely to become unhappy. If you associate with happy, positive and successful people, you are more likely to become like them. Adults preach this to their kids but are not always eager to put it into their personal practice. Adults often say that it’s important advice for the young and impressionable but adults are mature enough to discern good behavior from bad and so they are not influenced by others. I wish it were true, but again, studies show that maturity and age does not exempt you from being influenced by the action of others. As with most advice, if its good for kids its good for adults. One of my early mentors use to say, “Adults are only kids with older faces.”

In a 20-year “Happiness Study,” Harvard psychologists found that your happiness levels are very much impacted by the happiness of people in your social network. If a close friend experiences an increase in happiness, you are 25% more likely to experience a tandem increase in happiness. I have always said and believed that the happiness of others is contagious, if we are open to the experience.

We must seek friends and associates that motivate and inspire us. Our circle of friends should be well-rounded and supportive. Want to be happy? The evidence is clear. Associate with happy people. Want to be positive? Associate with positive people.

Want to be successful? Choose your friends wisely.

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